CBC Digital Archives

Fighting Words: Telling right from wrong and the value of human life

The long-running Fighting Words ranked among the most intelligent, provocative and popular shows of its day. It was a panel show with a simple premise: viewers send in controversial quotations and the panellists discuss them. From 1953 to 1962, host Nathan Cohen presided over verbal bombshells and spirited arguments of prominent thinkers, artists and controversialists, including Pierre Trudeau, Irving Layton, Robertson Davies, Norman Mailer, Peter Ustinov and many more. Watch the fireworks as the CBC Digital Archives features 20 of the most lively, fascinating and provocative panels in CBC history.

Here's an entertaining debate, including a rabbi's views on why church- or synagogue-going can be "worthless." Toronto Rabbi Andre Unger, housewife Mrs. Michael MacKenzie, Saturday Night editor Arnold Edinborough and Toronto Telegram columnist Frank Tumpane engage in lively debate on this quote from Alexander Woollcott: "People today can't tell right from wrong in family behaviour and public morals."

A Toronto housewife then joins the Fighting Words panel to argue a contentious quote: "I cannot honestly believe that all lives are equally precious." Mrs. Michael MacKenzie sits down with Arnold Edinborough, editor of Saturday Night magazine, Toronto Telegram columnist Frank Tumpane and Rabbi Andre Unger of Toronto's Temple Emmanuel. It's a short but weighty discussion on the value of human life.
• Alexander Woollcott, the source of the quotation discussed in this program, was known as an abrasive personality, but he was apparently very inspiring. Sheridan Whiteside, the protagonist of the play The Man Who Came to Dinner is based on him, as is Waldo Lydecker in the film Laura.

• Woollcott may have also been referring to himself with this quote. He also once remarked, "All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening."
Medium: Television
Program: Fighting Words
Production Date: March 22, 1959
Guest(s): Arnold Edinborough, Mrs. Michael MacKenzie, Frank Tumpane, Rabbi Andre Unger
Host: Nathan Cohen
Duration: 27:36

Last updated: March 20, 2012

Page consulted on March 3, 2014

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